Friday, June 29, 2012

Hiking: Fifth 10-mile report - 10K and Sandia Crest Trails

This past weekend I completed a strenuous 10-mile hike in the northern Sandias. It was my fifth 10-mile trek, meaning that I am one final step away from completing the requirements for the Boy Scouts Hiking Merit Badge.

For my final task, I have to plan and carry out a 20-mile hike. The hike must be done contiguously - not in parts - and it must be done in one day. But before I move on to deciding when and where I'll finally complete this major undertaking, let me first report about the final of my five 10-milers.

I took I-40 from Albuquerque to the exit for NM 14 and followed the Turquoise Trail north about six miles to the turn-off for the Sandia Crest Scenic Byway. About 11 miles up the back side of Sandia, I arrived at the 10K Trail Head around quarter to 9 a.m. The Trail Head has an outhouse, but no water. Fortunately I had packed 5 liters.

From this trail head, the 10K Trail leads to the north and the south. Following the blue diamond signs, I headed north and enjoyed a cool Alpine environment, replete with rolling hills, for about 2.5 miles before reaching the Osha Trail.

From there, I followed the Osha up the hill for another half mile or so to reach the North Sandia Crest Trail. This was one of the more strenuous stretches of the day's trek.

There were lots of birds hanging out in the understory along the first three miles of the hike. The landscape, while lush with a thick canopy, was littered with downed trees on the forest floor. The hill was steep, but the trail followed the elevation lines for the most part. There was a lot of up and down but nothing too strenuous. The trail was dark brown dirt - quite different from many of the other Sandia hikes I've taken where the trail was a mix of lighter dirt and chunky granite pebbles. In places, the earth was even spongy, though not much water was present in the soil.

Arriving at the Crest Trail I was treated to one of the highlights of the hike as a wildflower-lined path led to a precipice with a breathtaking view of the Rio Grande Valley below.

I continued north on the Crest Trail for another couple of miles to reach the Crest House. The trail here led to many more amazing view points. My favorite moment was seeing the back side of the famous "Needle", the most prominent feature of Sandia Mountain, which can be seen from anwhere in the Albuquerque area.

The trail splits just before the Crest House. I took the one that goes in front of the collection of electric and communications towers based on the peak. It was not very well maintained, the trail was thin at spots and I kind of regretted my choice halfway through. But I'm glad I did it in hindsight - the views were incredible! I imagine the back side of the towers would have been just more of the same.

I took a short break at the Crest House, which was about 4.5 miles into the hike. I refilled two of my water bottles there and pressed on.

The Tram Terminal was another 1.75 miles along the Crest Trail. This was the worst part of the trek. The trail was trampled by non-hikers who really did not seem to respect the idea of Leave No Trace. There were children throwing tantrums almost the entire length as parents who drove to the top or took the Tram or ski lift seemed to force their kids to exercise for the first time in their lives. I was annoyed. But still, I was happy to see these folks out there. Most of the children and many of the adults were visibly out of shape or obese; so whatever it takes to get them out to exercise I'm supportive of it!

Beyond the Tram station, I continued on the South Crest Trail for another mile or two. The trail was basically empty. I began to get nervous that I would miss the turnoff for the 10K trail when I got to a crossroads of trails that had no trail signs - which was odd since every other intersection I'd passed was well-signed.

The map I was using made it look like the South Crest and 10K Trails met. I saw a cairn there, so I turned left hoping I was on the right trail. Then about 40 feet down the path there was another intersection of trails. I kept to the left, as this seemed right given the curvature of the trail on the map, and soon I came to well-signed point that showed the beginning of the 10K Trail.

The map inadequately described this section of the trail, which makes me worry for those who are not as good with trail navigation as I've become over the past year. I think I may contact the map publisher to see what can be done to correct it.

From this point, I knew I had between nearly three miles left to complete the 10K Trail, and I was running out of steam. I took this as a sign that I needed to hydrate. I drank another liter of water and rested for a bit, then I set out to complete my trek. It turned out that this was the most remarkable part of my hike.

Along this section of the trail I crossed paths with a skunk, a mule deer and a family of wild turkeys! Also, this part of the trail crosses the ski slopes, and I provided a bit of surprise for a family of tourists that was taking the ski lift to the top. They laughed at me for going up to the top the hard way. Meanwhile, I felt sad for them that they were missing out on the best parts of the mountain.

I made it back to my car a little after 5 p.m. This hike took longer than usual for me, I think because I took more breaks along the way. It was very hot that day, so I listened to my body and took breaks whenever I needed to. Also, I took lots of little pit stops along the crest to enjoy the amazing views!

Now that I've finished my required 10-milers, I'm excited to begin planning my 20-mile hike. I'm going to try to lose about 10 or 20 pounds before trying it, though. My current weight weighs me down and I know that every pound I lose will help me hike more efficiently. Meanwhile, I will keep hiking, possibly doing longer hikes to work up to the 20 miler. In any case, I'll keep you posted whatever I decide!

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